Matthew Collings quietly making noise
Music, Acoustic Music and Living Better Electrically: Matthew Collings and Me
May 01 2011

The Pianobabbler had the good fortune recently to meet the Iceland-based musician Matthew Collings.

To call Matthew an exploratory composer, would ignore his rock guitarist dimension. To call him an experimental electroacoustician would ignore his hard-core pop sensitivities. Listen to and read about this remarkable musician on his MySpace page.

The Pianobabbler has been engaging in an artistically active and intellectually stimulating dialogue with Matthew. The subject: music. Keeping music fresh. Interesting. Acoustic. Electric. New, but not forbidding.

With his permission, the Pianobabbler felt compelled to share this extract of our exchange.

The Pianobabbler began it, saying:

I'm usually slotted as a jazz pianist, but my training is classical, and my influences include pre-1980 pop. After 7 recordings, I'm exploring new avenues. One of them is bringing sound manipulation / distortion to the acoustic piano, but in a piano/bass/drum jazz format. It's not unlike Hendrix. Remembering that the electric guitar is really an acoustic instrument with piezo amplification, I drop a piezo mic in the acoustic piano, and then pass the signal through a simple AmpKit setup for wah, distortion, phaser etc effects. As in typical jazz or Hendrix, we play a tune and then improvise on it. It's simple, but surprisingly effective.

To which Matthew replied:

I'm interested to hear you've started to approach the piano in this way. For me, amplification and electronics in whatever form open up a huge world of possibility in regards to acoustic instruments. Again going back to Hendrix, people say he played his speakers and amplifier as much as his guitar, which really interests me. When you think about a guitar in particular, there is this whole signal chain from string to ear which fundamentally uses amplification.

Something I've very interested in these days in the use of prepared amplifiers- ripping the front off a small practice amp and manipulating the speaker cone directly, with you fingers, or preparing it a la [John] Cage, with various materials (bells and rice are favourites.) This becomes like an instrument itself. It's a lot of fun and produces many interesting sounds as well as being visually rather appealing. The thing about all this for me is that I don't see a disconnect between the instrument and the electronic aspect of it, even when using a computer. The whole thing from start to finish is my instrument.

Something that also interests me is the acoustic sound of electronic instruments- the electric guitar for instance. I use this in a piece for 3 electric guitars, prepared amplifier and room microphones called Flags of a Dead Ship and available online here. I take the acoustic sound of the strumming of the electric guitars and bend it back through the p.a. to create a sense of exploratory feedback (a la Alvin Lucier), which activates the resonant frequencies of the performance space (this section is at 7:30 - 12:33 of the recording.)

Another project I did recently uses an electric guitar as a control device for vibrational sensors placed on a piano, other found objects and percussion. You can see and hear it here. The guitar doesn't produce any guitar-like sounds (apart from the acoustic strumming of the strings) and is instead 'amplified' through these other objects.

A piano can be such a vast source of sound - the keys, body, pedals etc., which can really be brought to your attention by amplification. It might be interesting to have a number of piezos and simply have them lying on the strings of the piano but not 'attached' and let them leap around indeterminately depending on how and what notes you play. The possibilities seem infinite.

The dialogue continues. As does the Pianobabbler's search for a sound that can bring jazz back to its pop- as in popular -origins as a music reflecting the energy of the day, not echoes of yesterday.

The Pianobabbler has babbled.

The Pianobabbler is a RonDavisMusic production. The Pianobabbler's blog posts appear weekly at Please remember to leave your comments and thoughts below. Subscribe to the RSS feed. And subscribe to RonDavisNews by clicking on the Mailing List link, above right. And follow us on Twitter.

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